Blogs Crosscuts Paul Schmelzer

Nine-year editor of Walker magazine (1998-2007), Paul returned to the Walker as web editor in September 2011. A freelance writer and blogger, he writes on art, media, and activism for publications including Adbusters, Artforum.com, Ode, Utne, Cabinet, Raw Vision and at his personal site, Eyeteeth. Award-winning former editor of the Minnesota Independent, his interviews with architect Cameron Sinclair, artist Rirkrit Tiravanija and activist Winona La Duke appear in the book Land, Art: A Cultural Ecology Handbook (Royal Society of Arts). @iteeth

Fellini’s Stairwell

Walker development associate Masami Kawazato spotted this guerrilla sign posted by an anonymous Walker staffer in a back stairwell. “For me that 8 ½ level is the fake-out level,” emails Masami, whose office is in the top floor of the Walker’s Barnes building. “At 8 I get really excited I’m almost to the office after […]

Walker development associate Masami Kawazato spotted this guerrilla sign posted by an anonymous Walker staffer in a back stairwell. “For me that 8 ½ level is the fake-out level,” emails Masami, whose office is in the top floor of the Walker’s Barnes building. “At 8 I get really excited I’m almost to the office after trudging up those steps, and it’s like 8.5 is the teaser before you finally get to 9. Mostly I wanna know who did it!”

A “Fragment of a Continuum”: Jim Hodges’ World AIDS Day Film Puts Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ Art in Context

The film — a 60-minute multimedia mash-up of cultural moments — both encompasses and transcends Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ era to include references to social justice struggles throughout history, from those inspired by the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq War to the Rodney King beating and the death camps of World War II. In a recent interview, Hodges characterized the film as “a fragment of a continuum.” That is, a moment captured from a long, contentious, and ongoing fight for equality, fairness and a more just world.

Jim Hodges   Photo: Gene Pittman, Walker Art Center

While Felix Gonzalez-Torres remains revered in the art world — he posthumously represented the United States at the 2007 Venice Biennale, and his work made up the thematic basis of the 2011 Istanbul Biennial — what may be starting to fade in our collective memory is the context in which he worked: the height of the AIDS crisis. Asked last year to do a talk on Gonzalez-Torres’ billboards, artist Jim Hodges opted instead to do a film, one the Walker and some 60 other arts and community organizations are screening in observation of World AIDS Day tomorrow. Hodges’ Untitled, a collaboration with Carlos Marques da Cruz and Encke King, aims to mirror the cultural environment his friend Felix was working within, from the bold activism of ACT UP to the political face of the ’80s culture wars. But the film — a 60-minute multimedia mash-up of cultural moments — both encompasses and transcends that era to include references to social justice struggles throughout history, from those inspired by the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq War to the Rodney King beating and the death camps of World War II. In a recent interview, Hodges characterized the film as “a fragment of a continuum.” That is, a moment captured from a long, contentious, and ongoing fight for equality, fairness and a more just world.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled,”, 1991   Installation view in Manhattan for Projects 34: Felix Gonzalez-Torres at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1992.   Photo: Peter Muscato     ©The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation

Here are a few excerpts from my interview with Hodges, whose art will be featured in the 2014 Walker exhibition, Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take, co-curated by Walker executive director Olga Viso and Jeffrey Grove of the Dallas Museum of Art. Here are some excerpts from the full interview:

On how his film references Gonzalez-Torres’ art:

The film, as a structure, mimicked Felix’s “dateline” pieces, so there’s a crashing together of times. We bounce around from World War II to current times and back to the ’60s. There a lot of different times, and the tempo is quickly changing from one to the other. References in the film were references of Felix’s. The mirroring was a reference of Felix’s. Doubling of things was a reference of his.

The Smiths’ songs were references to Felix, because he loved the Smiths. The last song is “Death of a Disco Dancer,” and the first one is “Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me.”

The songs are really important because they’re the voice of art in the film. There’s an honesty, a directness. There’s something very specific that happens in the music that doesn’t necessarily happen in politics and the kind of conflicts that continue over and over, with people struggling to have self-expression and self-empowerment, struggling up against government. So, this is part of the continuum. It’s nothing new, and it’s still going on.


Still from Untitled: Smoke from the implosion of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and burning oil wells in Iraq

On the September 11 terrorist attacks on his home city of New York:

This country went to war with Iraq based on silly ideas that we needed to go and find these weapons of mass destruction. Why would we miss an opportunity when the World Trade towers were destroyed and we were left with that rubble, the fear and unknown, and the stillness that overtook the city for a few days? The crazy people actually stood out, because everyone else was in this state of shock. Wandering the streets. Quietly walking. Respectful of each other. We were all in a state of shock.

What you have in you as a person, through this, is: I would never want this to happen to anyone else. This is so horrible. This should never happen to anyone, to have this kind of horror imposed on you from you-don’t-know-what.

I felt: Wow, I know what this feels like. This feels like what it felt like in 1988, when Scott was diagnosed with HIV. This is what it felt like when Scott died in 1993 of AIDS. It was like, “Oh my god, that’s the same feeling.” I thought: “Okay, now the circle just expanded. It’s not just me and my friends and a small percentage of the population who are suffering from this phenomenon. Actually, all of us have been brought into this reality of horror.”

So now, we’re all vibrating from that same place. We’re all on the same ground. So now is the time to actually have a dialogue: What’s going on in this world? How could this happen to us? Why would we never want to do this to someone else?

What’s the politicians’ answer? This is a time to, boom-boom-boom, beat those drums and, boom-boom-boom, make some money and blow somebody up and expand ourselves and take advantage of someone in this weakness. Let’s use this horror and shock that people are in and take them into a place that’s even more horrific. This is the kind of grossness of the machinery of politics. I don’t know what it’s about, ultimately. I know it’s about power and holding onto it. I know it’s aligned with economics. But I know it’s not about what I went through or what people go through.

I don’t think Americans are different from other people. When you see mothers suffering because their kids are being killed, I think that mothers, no matter where they are, universally would say, “I would never want that to happen to someone else’s kid.” But the government isn’t a mother. And that’s part of the problem.


Still from Untitled: An ACT UP protest at Grand Central Station, New York 

On why Untitled addresses both HIV/AIDS and other social issues:

The way our government irresponsibly didn’t address the health issue at hand when the AIDS crisis first became known is the problem. We have people in power who are disrespectful, who are prejudiced, who don’t see, who refuse to acknowledge an aspect of the society at large because of their ideological position. They won’t allow themselves to see the humanness that’s there. This is the problem that I see: this continuation—and the continuum—where the powers deny the humanness of the other. It creates the other and then destroys it, or is indifferent to it and lets it be destroyed. This is continually happening.

Felix had AIDS. Obviously, it was an important issue—not one that he was talking about all the time, but clearly it was affecting his work, his psyche. It ended his life. It had to be addressed in work by me as someone who was going to speak about him and his production, but it wasn’t the only thing that Felix talked about. It wasn’t the only thing where one can see, “Oh, here’s this problem. It’s just existing here, for us queer people.” No. Uh-uh. And it’s not a new problem, where people aren’t treated with respect.

On Gonzalez-Torres, who died from AIDS-related complications in 1996, and his art:

Think about where we are, what we suffer through, what we deal with—and what do we put forth? What are we bringing out and putting into the world, considering that the time bomb is ticking underneath our chair and there’s all this shit going on?

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled,” 1995     Installation view in San Antonio, Texas for Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Billboards at Artpace, San Antonio, 2010.    Photo: Todd Johnson    ©The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation

The Annotated Godfather

As universally acclaimed as Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 filmic icon is, its “ubiquitous presence has made The Godfather increasingly difficult to see,” writes The Los Angeles Times’ David Ulin. We remember the broad strokes — the horse’s head, the one-liners repeated ad infinitum by the contemporary Corleones on The Sopranos — but what “we forget, […]

jonesbook.jpgAs universally acclaimed as Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 filmic icon is, its “ubiquitous presence has made The Godfather increasingly difficult to see,” writes The Los Angeles Times’ David Ulin. We remember the broad strokes — the horse’s head, the one-liners repeated ad infinitum by the contemporary Corleones on The Sopranos — but what “we forget, though, is the power of the story, a narrative of assimilation and identity and the compromises we make with ourselves.”

In a review last week, Ulin suggests that a new book, The Annotated Godfather: The Complete Screenplay (Black Dog and Leventhal, 2007), by Jenny Jones of the Walker’s Film/Video department, can help us see the film “fresh after all these years.”

Jones, who worked at Oak Street Cinema and Portland’s Northwest Film Center before becoming the program associate for the Walker’s Regis Dialogues and Retrospectives, wrote the book to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the film’s release. And she does unearth some surprising information:

Twelve directors turned down offers to make the film version of Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel, including, at first, the then nearly unknown Coppola, who considered it “sleazy.”

One of the most quotable lines in the movie, “ Leave the gun, take the cannolis,” was ad-libbed by actor Richard Castellano.

Paramount Pictures pushed Puzo to write the original screenplay as a modern story “set in the 1970s, complete with hippies.” When Coppola came on board he dismissed it as “a slick, contemporary gangster picture of no importance. It wasn’t Puzo’s fault. He just did what they told him to do.” It took Coppola and Puzo two more drafts to arrive at the final script, which Jones’ reproduces in full, with notes by Puzo and Coppola scrawled in the margins.

The “most famous technical mistake of the movie” remained because of budgetary concerns. In it James Caan as the hot-headed Sonny missed a punch during a street fight with his brother-in-law, Carlo. “At that point we were just rushing, and it turned out that the best take had this one miss,” said Coppola. “Today they could fix it with digital effects.”

With more than 200 production photos, interviews with actors and crew members, and details on deleted scenes and bloopers, the book, says Jones, offers a rich look into “a film that continues to captivate us, decades after its release, and appeals to both erudite film buffs and TV couch potatoes alike.”

“Tresspassing as hobby”: Urban Explorers film premieres this week

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEjev-8e-yM[/youtube] Melody Gilbert has a way of tapping into the zeitgeist. Her film Whole (2003) came out two years before the New York Times reported on a psychological disorder in which people are obsessed with having limbs amputated. Her newest film, Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness, delves into a culture I began noticing relatively recently: […]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEjev-8e-yM[/youtube]

Melody Gilbert has a way of tapping into the zeitgeist. Her film Whole (2003) came out two years before the New York Times reported on a psychological disorder in which people are obsessed with having limbs amputated. Her newest film, Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness, delves into a culture I began noticing relatively recently: the clandestine and usually illegal exploration of deteriorating or forgotten elements of urban history, from abandoned factories to underground sewer tunnels. Inspired by a 2003 news report about the arrest of six local people who were mistaken for terrorists because of their night-vision goggles, rappelling equipment, and gasmasks, she set out to document this largely hidden endeavor (what one critic calls “tresspassing as hobby”), travelling from Minneapolis to Paris and beyond. Since then UE has blossomed with countless videos, blogs, clubs, meetups, and webrings dedicated to it.

The film gets its world premiere here as part of Women With Vision (through March 17) Friday and Saturday. Director Melody Gilbert will introduce the screenings.

40 best directors?

See if you agree with this: a panel of experts–Peter Bradshaw, Xan Brooks, Molly Haskell, Derek Malcolm, Andrew Pulver, B Ruby Rich and Steve Rose–convened on the Guardian‘s behalf to select the “40 best directors.” Using a 20-point scale, with 20 the best, they graded each artist’s substance, look, craft, orginality, and intelligence. While Walker […]

See if you agree with this: a panel of experts–Peter Bradshaw, Xan Brooks, Molly Haskell, Derek Malcolm, Andrew Pulver, B Ruby Rich and Steve Rose–convened on the Guardian‘s behalf to select the “40 best directors.” Using a 20-point scale, with 20 the best, they graded each artist’s substance, look, craft, orginality, and intelligence. While Walker film audiences should recognize plenty of names, there are some surprises: no Coppola, Kurosawa, Kubrick, or Hitchcock (hmm, while it doesn’t say so, this appears to be a list of living directors.)

And the winners are (in suspense-enhancing order):

40. Gus Van Sant

39. David Fincher

38. Takashi Miike

37. Lars von Trier

36. Samira Makhmalbaf

35. Larry and Andy Wachowski

34. David O. Russell

33. Pavel Pawlikowski

32. Gaspar Noe

31. Richard Linklater

30. Takeshi Kitano

29. Wes Anderson

28. Michael Moore

27. Ang Lee

26. Aleksandr Sokurov

25. Spike Jonze

24. Alexander Payne

23. Walter Salles

22. Michael Haneke

21. Paul Thomas Anderson

20. Michael Winterbottom

19. Aki Kaurismaki

18. Tsai Ming Liang

17. Quentin Tarantino

16. Todd Haynes

15. Pedro Almodovar

14. Wong Kar-wai

13. Bela Tarr

12. Lynne Ramsay

11. Lukas Moodysson

10. Terence Davies

9. David Cronenberg

8. Hayao Miyazaki

7. Erroll Morris

6. Abbas Kiarostami

5. Terrence Malick

4. Steven Soderbergh

3. Joel and Ethan Coen

2. Martin Scorsese

1. David Lynch

GoogleVideo hosts entire Jesus Camp film

Jesus Camp, the film about a now-closed “Kids on Fire” bible camp by documentarians Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (whose Boys of Baraka showed here at Women with Vision 2006), keeps racking up awards like the Special Documentary Jury Prize at Tribeca and the Sterling Award at SilverDocs. Now you can watch the entire film […]

Consumption/Conversion: Dean Otto interviews Jem Cohen

Known for films that combine street footage with elements of documenary, narrative, and experimental approaches, Jem Cohen’s filmography includes the documentaries Instrument (1999), made with and about the band Fugazi, and Benjamin Smoke (2000), among others. Coming to the Walker April 27 for a dialogue with musician Vic Chesnutt, Cohen discussed his first narrative feature […]

Jem Cohen 02.jpg

Known for films that combine street footage with elements of documenary, narrative, and experimental approaches, Jem Cohen’s filmography includes the documentaries Instrument (1999), made with and about the band Fugazi, and Benjamin Smoke (2000), among others. Coming to the Walker April 27 for a dialogue with musician Vic Chesnutt, Cohen discussed his first narrative feature film, Chain (which screens here on April 26) with Dean Otto, assistant film/video curator. For the work, he converted the non-narrative three-screen installation Chain X 3, featuring endless footage of chain stores, fast-food restaurants, and suburban parking lots, into a fictional feature on the same themes but using character actors. In this excerpt of their interview (full interview here), Cohen discusses how footage he habitually shoots whenever he travels coalesced into a refined film concept.

Dean Otto: At what point did you realize that project was the one you would be working on with that footage?

Jem Cohen: Well, I think it came out of my work doing city portraits–places that had a regional character that was strong, but endangered. So I was often having to frame things out: a billboard or a new skyscraper or a franchise hotel or a mall encroaching on some extraordinary neighborhood. I’d be shooting a beautiful street in Prague in the middle of the night and I would have my back to the new McDonalds that was ruining the view in that direction. After contending with that, often by documenting the very thing that was disappearing, I began to feel that I had some kind of obligation to deal with this new world and to face these issues head on. I forced myself to put those things that I had long avoided square into the center of the frame and to examine the changes.

DO: It’s very poignant that you’re presenting this work here because the first indoor mall in America was Southdale in Edina, Minnesota. With the explosion in the number of corporate mergers, it seems as if a small number of corporations are dictating architecture through branding and franchising, and there is a real comfort that people feel through corporate identity.

JC: That’s an integral part of the project: it isn’t about any one thing, but that is as important as any other theme in there. Corporations are faced with this endless, brutal game of trying to create the impression of novelty while really destroying difference. It’s kind of devastating, but it’s really important that we take a closer look at it. I can’t believe I came to the Midwest and didn’t get out to the Mall of America–the ber mall.

Earlier: Jem Cohen’s run-in with Homeland Security!

Wide Awake with Alan Berliner

In an ongoing series of interviews with Sundance participants, indieWIRE interviews filmmaker Alan Berliner. A past Walker artist-in-residence, Berliner is introducing his new documentary, Wide Awake. Like the film he screened here, The Sweetest Sound (an obsessive history of naming and, specifically, his own name), this new effort is autobiographical. Only this time it’s about […]

In an ongoing series of interviews with Sundance participants, indieWIRE interviews filmmaker Alan Berliner. A past Walker artist-in-residence, Berliner is introducing his new documentary, Wide Awake. Like the film he screened here, The Sweetest Sound (an obsessive history of naming and, specifically, his own name), this new effort is autobiographical. Only this time it’s about sleep:

Where did the initial idea for your film come from?

I’ve been a poor sleeper my entire life but wasn’t ready to tackle the problem in a film until now. I’m not sure if it had to do with marrying Shari, with having a child, or the fact that my last film “The Sweetest Sound” (a film about “names”) explored “identity” from the outside (looking in), so to speak — that I felt I needed to explore “identity” from the inside (looking out) this time. I’ve known all along that my insomnia is caused by my inability to shut down my brain at night. Making “Wide Awake” allowed me to dive head first into the problem — directly into my thought process, both conscious and unconscious – into the very place that provides fuel for my creative life, but paradoxically, also keeps me up at night and makes me exhausted during the day. I wanted to understand the source and seed of some of my deepest conflicts and contradictions and try to render them in ways both visceral and poetic. And cinematic.

At the same time, I want the film to generate a greater understanding of and empathy with the condition of sleeplessness — at both the personal and societal levels. There’s also a good deal of practical advice in the film that can help others with sleep problems as well.

See documentation of Berliner’s installation, exhibition, and film screenings for The Language of Names, or try out the interactive naming tools developed during his residency here (see how popular your name is, read stories about how people got their names, and more).

Women with Vision preview: The Boys of Baraka

In inner-city Baltimore, 76 percent of African-American boys don’t graduate from high school. And, as the school system complained to the president of a philanthropic foundation five years ago, five percent of troublemakers were making learning nearly impossible for the other 95 percent. The solution they came up with was Baraka School, an experimental school […]

baraka200x300.jpg

In inner-city Baltimore, 76 percent of African-American boys don’t graduate from high school. And, as the school system complained to the president of a philanthropic foundation five years ago, five percent of troublemakers were making learning nearly impossible for the other 95 percent. The solution they came up with was Baraka School, an experimental school in Kenya–yes, Africa–where “at-risk” kids are shipped to get a radical education away from the influences of drugs, violence, and poverty. In the east African language Kiswahili, “baraka” means blessing, and for some of the boys featured in the new documentary Boys of Baraka, it seems a fitting name. Shot over three years, the film focuses on a handful of boys as they face loneliness, discipline, and catharses in Kenya:

Devon, now 15 and a ninth grader at the Academy for College and Career Exploration in Baltimore, recalls a moment that changed him. After he deliberately bumped a teacher, two counselors took him for a “night walk,” far from campus, and left him to find his way back. The chattering of baboons filled the dark skies. “Tears were running down my cheeks,” he says. “That was a lot more scary than Baltimore. I was walking all by myself, thinking about everything [my grandmother and teachers] always told me about doing good. I wasn’t so tough. That was when I started to listen.” Richard struggles with his reading — “something wrong with my brain,” he says with a laugh — but one night, to grand applause, he shares a poem he has written. The title: “I Will Survive.” Devon and Romesh make the honor roll, and Montrey, by now reading books on his own for the first time, earns 95s. “Before Baraka, I always failed math,” says Montrey, now 15 and a Baltimore City College freshman. “I never went [to class]. With all those teachers coming after me, I learned to value my education.”

The Boys of Baraka screens at the Walker on March 16 as part of the 2006 Women with Vision festival of film and video. Watch the trailer here. To hear this morning’s review on NPR by Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan, click here. Look for more Women with Vision preview posts in weeks to come…

Wang Jian Wei’s moveable taste

In October 2002, artist-in-residence Wang Jian Wei brought to Minneapolis the ingredients for a classic Szechwan dish, Ma Po Tofu. Exploring the cultural differences in the experience of food as it travels around the world, he prepared the dish from his home province beside a local chef who created the American version. Called Moveable Taste, […]

In October 2002, artist-in-residence Wang Jian Wei brought to Minneapolis the ingredients for a classic Szechwan dish, Ma Po Tofu. Exploring the cultural differences in the experience of food as it travels around the world, he prepared the dish from his home province beside a local chef who created the American version. Called Moveable Taste, the performance encouraged the audience to sample both versions to discover the differences. On December 20, 2005, Wang revisted the experience by inviting film curator Sheryl Mousley to taste the same dish at a restaurant in Beijing. Mousley was in Beijing to meet with Chinese filmmakers and prepare a new residency project with Wang Jian Wei.

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